As anyone who has been paying the slightest bit of attention to American politics in the last 4 years knows, one of Donald Trump’s favorite things is to announce a pending “executive order” that will accomplish something, followed by the order either failing to materialize or not doing anything. Needless to say, his attempts to bypass Congress in the wake of Mitch McConnell’s refusal to negotiate a COVID-19 relief plan are not an exception:
He mischaracterized the legal stature of the measures, referring to them as “bills.” Congress writes and passes bills, not the White House. The documents Trump signed on Saturday were a combination of memorandums and an executive order.
One of them aims to provide $400 in weekly unemployment aid for millions of Americans whose $600 in weekly benefits expired last month. Trump said 25 percent of this money would be paid by states, many of which are already dealing with major budget shortfalls and have pleaded with Congress for more aid. The federal contribution would be redirected from money at the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Another of the documents attempts to defer payroll tax payments from September through December for people who earn less than $100,000. The impact of this measure could depend on whether companies decide to comply, as they could be responsible for withdrawing large amounts of money from their employees’ paychecks in a few months when the taxes are due.
The president said if he wins reelection he would seek to extend the deferral and somehow “terminate” the amount of taxes that are owed. The payroll tax funds Social Security and Medicare benefits, and it’s unclear what will happen to those programs without the money.
Two of the other executive actions are related to eviction protections and student loan relief.
Trump is trolling, not offering actual relief measures. The UI benefit memo, in particular, requires states to use money they don’t have because Republicans strongly opposed providing aid during a recession and also involves the unconstitutional appropriation of funds. (“The states have the money. It’s sitting there.”) Similarly, the payroll tax memo involves usurping a congressional power in order to destroy Social Security and Medicare.
The problem is that, for every responsible report like this there are many more headlines that repeated Trump’s “offer” to extend UI as if it were an actual thing:
This is journalistic malpractice, and plays right into the hands of Mitch McConnell, who wants these orders to distract people from the fact that no relief bill has been passed because he refuses to pass one or even to seriously negotiate:
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who mostly stayed out of the recently negotiations between the White House and Democrats, praised Trump’s move.
“Struggling Americans need action now,” he said in a statement. “Since Democrats have sabotaged backroom talks with absurd demands that would not help working people, I support President Trump exploring his options to get unemployed benefits and other relief to the people who need them the most.”
Remember when people would argue with a straight face that Congressional Republicans would check Trump’s royalist ambitions LOL.
Essentially, what we have here is a weird meta problem in that incumbent parties can’t actually MESSAGE their way out of material disasters, but Republican elites clearly think they can. And so the media uncritically treating Trump’s trolling as if it was an actual offer of aid is encouraging them to do nothing. And even if this doesn’t save them in November that’s no consolation for the countless people whose lives will be ruined in the meantime because Mitch McConnell and most of the Republican Senate conference prefer trolling and gimmicky buck-passing to governing and much of the political press keeps falling for the most obvious cons in the world.